The Business Guy vs. the Programmer

Posted on:April 23 2014

I'm a very bad business guy. Maybe because I'm a programmer, and programmers and business guys don't mix very well, or only in very rare circumstances. Frequently, when some company contacts me in order to propose a partnership, buy a bunch of my products, or want some technical help, the conversation is very awkward because of this. In the worst case, the email conversation goes something like this:

Guy: Hi, I'm X from company Y, we want to do a partnership with your company because of your nice product Z, can you forward me to the person in charge?
Me: Yes, that's me. What do you want to do?
Guy: Can I get your phone number / When do you have time for a meeting, so I can talk to you in detail?
Me: My time is very limited, maybe you could first tell me roughly what this would be about?
Guy: It's about your product Z, we are very interested in it.
Me: You already told me that. But what do you want to do? What do you want to talk about?
Guy: Would Thursday, 14:00 GMT be ok with you? [Added in CC are now a CEO and other people I don't know from that company]
Me: No, you didn't even fucking tell me what you want to talk about.

I've had several dozen conversations via mail like that now. It's like these people don't understand that email is also a form of communication. You can communicate everything via email, no need to do some phone conversations or even real world meetings. In my opinion, phone calls are for details. They cost a lot of time, and should be reserved for talking about details. Just because you are better with talking than with typing doesn't mean that this is the same for me.

I don't know if I maybe lost a few nice business opportunities because of my attitude regarding this, but maybe at least I had more time programming new features for my customers that way.
Shameless plug: the software I am working on


2014-04-23 13:02:00

Thx, corrected
2014-04-23 13:04:00

I'm there. No you haven't. You don't want to know the crazy you miss.
2014-04-23 13:04:00

So true. This is why I've removed my phone number from my marketing. People assume your time is as worthless as their own.

I find the smaller the job, the more effort and questions they have, too. A single license? 42 emails, 4 phone calls. A corporate purchase of a thousand seats? 3 emails, 2 of which was to email the signed contract.
2014-04-23 13:13:00

You must be young. In general, if there's a philosophical mismatch between the world and you and it happens "several dozen" times, maybe it's not them.
stephen van egmo
2014-04-23 13:14:00

Being a business guy, working in tech and with many tech people on a daily basis, I would say that no sensible person, no matter 'business' or not, would approach a partnership in this way.

It's very likely that the people who are trying to contact you, do it in this way, because they have to play by a script book. It's a sad fact that so many companies adopt these techniques nowadays...
Ilia Markov
2014-04-23 13:15:00

To clarify: It was "several dozen times" during the 7 years my company is in business now. :)
2014-04-23 13:16:00

Get/partner with someone to do the business part in your behalf. Programming is cool, business is what really matters. I'm programmer like you.
2014-04-23 13:19:00

Keep your attitude like that, you'll find nice business people who understand your condition.
2014-04-23 13:28:00

Sure, since every idea can be condensed into a few lines of text so well, we should just never use phone calls.

Here's the problem with any text based form of communication: it sucks. We communicate using body language, facial expression, tone, speed of speech, and a half dozen other factors, including the actual words. Guess how much of that an email captures?

In addition, email is insecure (unless you and me have a day to meet in person and exchange GPG keys), non-private, and entirely inappropriate for anything remotely sensitive.

You then have the nerve to act like your time is so important that instead of arranging a phone call, you expect them to type out their entire message just so they can call you and repeat it again. Sure, because their time isn't valuable either.

If you are that busy that you can't handle potential customers (not "business people", but CUSTOMERS - those people who give you money), then you are too busy to run a business. Either hire someone, or seriously re-evaluate your priorities.
2014-04-23 13:33:00

I've actually had the chance to work on both sides of this, and maybe I can give some insight into the culture clash here.

In terms of the business-guy/programmer spectrum, I'm probably skewed toward the business-guy. I manage a product for a reasonably large company and do some development in my spare time or on an as-needed basis. But before this role, I decided I was going to get some perspective by working in sales and business development for a couple years where I really cut my teeth.

The first lesson they taught me when I started doing sales was how to "handle" rejection. Not in the "your girlfriend just broke up with you" kind of way, but in the "if your girlfriend tries to break up with you, take these steps to convince her otherwise." Listen to the person's tone of voice, ask a ton of questions to dig deeper into what they need, make them question their questions, and when they do, start proposing ways to address their concerns. This all has to be done live on a call - all of the techniques used require you to handle any hesitation they have faster than they can come up with new ones because, by default, people don't believe a damn thing you have to say and want to get back to their work. All of this falls apart as soon as you try this by e-mail, so rule #1 of sales: don't try to sell by e-mail beyond the initial introduction. Ever.

This actually works quite well when the person you're speaking to to work on a deal is a 'business' person themselves, and is very effective. As much as you might hate getting a 'cold call', they are proven to work in the field. The issue comes when the buyer or the person you need to convince is more technical and likes to communicate by e-mail. All those techniques are ineffective. Now, a smart salesperson knows to adapt to the person they are talking to and engage them on the channel of their choice, but the ratio of smart and thoughtful sales people to the brute-force type is pretty skewed, so the odds are you're going to get many more of the latter.

Still, even the smart/thoughtful type will eventually find a way to get you on the phone as in reality it is better for both parties: the sales person has a better ability to plead his or her case and handle issues immediately instead of letting them fester in your mind (developers are especially good at finding holes in things, which can kill genuinely good deals early), and you - the person being sold to - can get a much better read of the nature of the person you're speaking to, and what kind of person they are and what they value.

As a buyer then, I recommend doing your own research in cases like this. If they reach out to you and are being a bit brutish and not giving you information, look into their company and try to figure out for yourself why they might be reaching out to you. If something piques your interest or you see a fit, suggest it to them in an e-mail to see if that's the angle their going for. And if you think there's a fit, take the time to get on a call. If not, and they continue to hound you to get on the phone without giving you a reason, tell them to bugger off. There's a good chance what they're selling isn't worth buying.
2014-04-23 13:38:00

The first thing I always ask for is the input and output they expect, this generally gives a good idea of what they want. If they don't give you this chances are /they/ don't know what they want either, and you probably don't have the time to figure it out for them.
2014-04-23 13:39:00

Not sure if throwing f bombs will get you anywhere, but on the same time i think i fully understand you. What you could do instead is to prepare sort of a gemeric email explaining that you don`t have time for useless calls and boring talk, ask them to explain as simple as possible their business proposal.
2014-04-23 13:40:00

As a programmer who sometimes does business deals, I understand both sides of this. If your product is well defined and easy to buy in the quantity I need, then great! I'll just buy it.

However if I want to do something outside the boundaries of your store, then this is a problem. What if I want to try to license your product to embed in my product Q, so that my product can do Z? Now assume product Q is not even announced and my company is not known to even be in the Q market.

This is where it becomes problematic. My company usually wants to have a NDA in place before we discuss our future plans, especially in writing, so I need to get you to sign it. Starting an email with "please sign this NDA" just sucks. So I start with "can we talk about product Z?" so I can start a discussion and explain a little of what we want to do.

I'm very open to suggestions of better ways to handle this situation.
2014-04-23 14:00:00

I'm fine on the phone but, like you, try to avoid it in most situations. In my experience, about half of all the calls I take could have been email, another 40% shouldn't be either, and another 10% were truly better on the phone and we all pat ourselves on the back for that. I really hate wasting time on someone else's terms and initial phone meetings typically do just that.

"Just because you are better with talking than with typing doesn't mean that this is the same for me." I'm not sure if you meant this how I'm reading it but I think this is a really important part of what you're saying. I read it as some people are uncomfortable or shy on the phone, which is common among programmers. I recent lead a team of engineers and some are prolific technical writers, programmers, and Twitter users but have a terrible time interacting in person, over video chat, or on a call. In some cases, it appears to make them very uncomfortable. If the "business types" ignore this situation, they could be missing an opportunity to work with someone great simply because they have to control the communication method. Their loss!
2014-04-23 14:00:00

i'm sure you can assume it's about licensing your 3d engine or other a/v stuff. you are also probably ansking the wring questions -- i would go with "sure -- can you let me know what your budget and timelines are?"

this quickly weeds out tire-kickers. better yet -- hire a low level sales guy on commission to take these calls. offer them 35%.
2014-04-23 14:03:00

Wait, what? Was this post about not getting on the phone unless there's an agenda? #3 on hacker news? I'm going to #2 with "pants first then shoes"
2014-04-23 14:07:00

As a developer I also prefer email and I agree with you but I think "My time is very limited" is not the most important reason, maybe even in your case. I believe many developers are more introverts and many just aren't that good or comfortable with calls like this. If I could close every deal or answer all questions via email I would much prefer it over live phone call.
El Coderino
2014-04-23 14:08:00

It's a typical introvert attitude that I share, so I can relate. I'd rather spend an hour describing every minute detail in an e-mail than talk 15 minutes on the phone about it.

E-Mail and phone users don't interface well; there is no middle ground. I have successfully coerced quite a number of people to send me e-mail instead because I stubbornly refuse to pick up the phone when they call. They want something from me, and I have taught them that they have to play according to my rules, otherwise no dessert.

This may sound arrogant, selfish and rude -- but only for people who just blindly assume that phone conversations are the "regular" way to communicate, and that the person on the other end will always be happy to stop what he or she is doing and offer you his/her time to talk. Yes, this is true for many, but not for everyone.
2014-04-23 14:21:00

I am commenting as a programmer who has nice products and approached in the same way by business people just like here.

Just because you built nice product you don't need be an arrogant bitch!
2014-04-23 14:52:00

I think most people here are misunderstanding what is being said. The problem is not about not wanting to talk on the phone. But not wanting to talk on the phone for generic questions that can be answered with emails. The email should look something like this:

guy: I'm contacting you from company Y. We saw your product Z and would be interested in purchasing 100 licenses for our company. I would like to schedule a call to discuss some sensitive information about our usage of your product.


guy: I'm contacting you from company Y we would like to re-sell your product under our name and would like to work out a deal with you on this.

It really is just that easy to avoid sending anything sensitive information. Which is the point of the post.
2014-04-23 15:19:00

Great post. I buy small'ish companies and find myself on the other side of that discussion. When I started, I thought a phone call would be more formal, productive, and be taken seriously. Now, I realize the informality of email combined with the concept of "I wanna write a big fat check to you for ..." (and proof of the big-fat-check writing) works very well to establish credibility. Phone calls can come later.
Mike Johnson
2014-04-23 15:24:00

They want to know what kind of a person you are.

(Smart) business people know that they invest in the person more than they invest in the product. Especially if the product is a software that needs constant development effort.

Weed out the ones (somehow) that seem most promising and engage.
2014-04-23 15:54:00

Most people have limitations, but I'm not sure why you are so proud of yours.
2014-04-23 20:38:00

The reactions from many of the "business" types here show /exactly/ the problem Nico tries to point out in the first place: some of these people have no consideration for other people at all.
Nico, just let them rot, you are totally right.
There are more than enough business people that are NOT incompetent and complete sociopath jerks to connect with and fuel your business.
Vlijmen Fileer
2014-04-24 00:58:00

I guess I am the business type, but I would never have tried to start a partnership conversation via email the way you have experienced. I frankly hate the damn phone and would much prefer to get to all the salient points via email first. I've struck many a deal this way. You are very right to dismiss anyone that doesn't want to take the time to explain what they need and why and they are likely just trying to sell you something. As another commenter noted, it's about selling you on the phone.

All of that said, I thought I had tried every mindmapping tool on the planet, but here you are with one I have never seen along with some other really cool products tailored for "business people".

I don't think anything you've done is incorrect and your time is incredibly valuable. If they can't articulate what they want in an email, then they are likely going to be a train wreck in a partnership. So, expect them to tell you what they want, but also be willing to give them the personal touch on the phone or Skype if they seem to be the type that needs that if what they want to do sounds like it will have some value.

I'll give your products a spin and provide some feedback as well.
Brad Nickel
2014-04-24 03:07:00

Nico, you are absolutely right. I have over 15 years experience doing this, and the people who want to talk are either tire-kickers, want a discount or they're trying to sell you something. If they want a partnership, it's because you have something they want, not that they will be able to help you.

People who want to talk, want to convince you of something. Not inform you, but persuade you.

Anyone who criticizes you for taking a stand on this (halil and jwg I'm looking at you) doesn't have enough business experience to matter.

Why do you think important people have secretaries to screen their calls? Time is money. If you want to be polite and courteous to every time waster, go work in the fast-food industry.
Business guy
2014-04-24 16:16:00

I think it will be better if you just tell him patiently that, you want to talk via Email
2014-04-30 08:54:00

I partnered with a business guy when I started my software company because of this reason. He will go and spend his time meeting the client (which he enjoys doing it) and compile all the information he obtained into a short and informative summary which I will then read when I'm free (after done all my programming tasks). Win win.
2014-05-08 18:43:00

I think that you post reflect the attitude of people passing the massage, which is something that never is clear enough to explain to someone the very first time you contacted. As your example, tipically the guy may not actually have the authority to discuss with you why your soft' is relevant for them, but only to appoint a meeting. He doesn't want to sound stupid so avoid the issue. And he keeps talking about the date of the meeting.

Well in my poor experience, business is some skill to detect what is that someone needs at the right place and time. Because saving time is saving money. From the point of view of someone who can offer a solution then you proceed to sell it. In your case, apps, soft', and others have multiple applications so you might not know why they want it, but for sure they did the job to identify your solution as an answer to their problem or necessity.

Ok, I am not a business guy, rather a physicist. Yet I spent some time in the innovation development and business opportunity detection.

Anyway, on another note, is funny that I found that Google almost immediately pointed to when I searched for "html editor and webGL", where I saw copperCube3d. I found it was awesome. five minutes later uninstalled because it was a 15 days trial, and I thought ahhhgg some big "corporation cunt" and here I just read that Niko is a "solo" entrepreneur. Do you think I can get a copy of copperCube3d I am a student, and also very poor. XD

awesome dev', hope you keep the nice work.


2014-06-27 00:43:00

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